Highly Recommended***** Brilliant! This is probably the one word that could sum up the new production of “Sunday in the Park with George” now onstage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. Under the skillful eye of Director Gary Griffin ( whose name might be synonymous with Brilliance) this is by far the most sparking cast I have ever seen assembled to bring to life this wonderful musical that depicts the work by Georges Seurat, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. With a book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by none other than Stephen Sondheim, this is a masterpiece about a masterpiece. This was a revolutionary work of art and in this sterling production, we the audience get to watch the making of the painting and the inspiration behind it. If you have ever visited the Art Institute, where this amazing work resides, you can take note that the fifty or so people in the painting are all individuals, each one looking away from the others an din this musical , we see that George was doing something different and needed the focus on the color, organization, contracts, balance and to get each segment to his taste, the individuals were far more important than the total picture as the segmented sections, once completed, would in fact make the whole, just that, whole!
It is said that Sondheim and Lapine spent a great deal of time gazing at the painting trying to place each character into a story that would be their story and allowing for just what it might have been that Seurat was trying to attain with this work. Over the years, I have seen many productions of this wonderful musical story and many of them rated top-notch. In fact, several years ago CST did a smaller version o fthe show, in the upstairs “studio” theater, where the action took place in the center of the audience with the action being seen from two sides, thus, the audience could view reactions form the “other” audience during the entire 2 1/2 hours ( 2 acts with an intermission). While that was an extraordinary production, this one, done in the Courtyard Theater ( main stage area) is far superior, partly because of the direction, partly because of the wonderful set(Kevin Depinet) and projections (Mike Tutaj), the incredible lighting( Philip S. Rosenberg), Orcestrations ( Michael Starobin),Costumes (Mara Blumenfeld), Ryan T. Nelson and his orchestra and the sound design by Dan Mead and Ray Nardelli, but mostly due to the extraordinary talent that fills the stage.
This is a play about a painting and each member of the cast takes on roles that are of great importance to the overall picture that has been placed before us. Many cast members take on several roles , each one having a bearing on what we see on the sage and so there are fewer numbers but as I often say , it is not the number of performers, but the talent , that makes the production a memorable theatrical production. To the credit of the production team, most of the cast are local actors, familiar to those who attend local theater. Names like: Ora Jones, Derek Hasenstab, McKinley Carter, Kevin Gudahl, Michael Aaron Linder, Sean Fortunato ( who continues too show his versatility), the incredible Heidi Kettenring,Benjamin Magnuson,Travis Taylor and as Dot, George’s love the incredible Carmen Cusack who along with Jason Danieley, as George provide remarkable voices and acting ability. I was in awe of their performances and the way they played off each other, both in the first act as lovers ( the 1884-1886 section) and 100 years later as Marie and young George ( who it appears was the great grandson of Seurat. Watching this cast blend their art into the art that is depicted in this story is well worth a trip to Navy Pier. As usual with newer Sondheim works, the songs may not be memorable, but the presentation will be. The theme is of course,”Sunday in the Park with George” and others such as “Putting it Together”,”Move On”,”We Do Not Belong Together” and “Sunday” you may have heard on CD’s by Broadway stars, but I can guarantee you will go out humming some of these and at the end of each act, you will experience some of the thrills and chills that th s production brings to us along with a tear rolling down your cheek. That’s okay! It fits!!
There are many theater-goers who are like me, in that they truly love the work of Sondheim and become mesmerized by his cleverness in creating a blend of words and music that stick in the head. There are those who just don’t “dig” ( or perhaps understand just what it is he is doing), but even some of those who are not “into” Sondheim will find themselves standing at the end of this production, applauding for minutes longer than they might do on a normal day. In fact, there are several numbers in this show that were applauded as if this was a curtain call. This is a true statement by the audience of the quality of what they witnessed, but after all, this is not “just another musical; this is an evening at the pier with Sondheim as presented by Gary Griffin and who could ask for anything more!
“Sunday” will continue at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier through November 4th with tickets ranging from $48-$78. To see the schedule of performances, visit www.chicagoshakes.com/sunday, where you can also purchase tickets or you can call 312-595-5600
There is a 40% discount on parking and lots of great places to have a bite at Navy Pier.
To see what others say, go to my homepage, click on theatreinchiacgo, go to review round-up and click on “Sunday in the Park with George”
This is one you should not miss!